Report Analyzes Native American Youth in the Adult Justice System

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A Tangled Web of Justice includes: 1) statistics on demographics, risk factors, and juvenile delinquency for Native communities; 2) an overview of tribal, federal, and state justice systems with a brief discussion of some of the issues Native youth face in each system; 3) examples of promising solutions that address the needs of Native youth; and 4) recommendations for tribal, state, and federal policymakers and juvenile justice professionals.

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Native American youth are regularly prosecuted in three distinct justice systems - federal, state, and tribal. Adding to the complexity, in certain circumstances these youth may be transferred to the adult criminal system in all three types of justice systems.

A Tangled Web of Justice: American Indian and Alaska Native Youth in Federal, State, and Tribal Justice Systems is the first of many briefs that have been released in the Campaign for Youth Justice’s 'Race and Ethnicity Series.' This series of briefs examines the disproportionate impact that trying youth as adults has on communities of color throughout the United States. A tangled Web of Justice was authored by Neelum Arya, Addie Rolnick, and Michael Guilfoyle and presented at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) 3rd Annual Tribal Leader/Scholar Forum. The forum provided tribal leaders with cutting-edge research and the opportunity for dialogue between the nearly 1,000 tribal representatives and researchers in attendance.

The policy brief is intended to serve as a resource for tribes, juvenile justice professionals, and other stakeholders interested in improving outcomes for Native youth by presenting the current state of knowledge on Native youth and their involvement in justice systems across the country. When people refer to the juvenile justice "system" (i.e., law enforcement, prosecution, adjudication/conviction in courts, and corrections or sanctions) in this country, most people are referring to state juvenile justice systems, where the overwhelming majority of youth in the United States are prosecuted. In contrast, "Native American youth are regularly prosecuted in three distinct justice systems - federal, state, and tribal. Adding to the complexity, in certain circumstances these youth may be transferred to the adult criminal system in all three types of justice systems."

The brief found that many delinquent acts committed by Native American youth are low-level offenses, many involving alcohol. Additionally, many Native youth receive either no court intervention or disproportionately severe sanctions, such as secure confinement and transfer to the adult criminal system. Many factors contribute to this situation, including: a general lack of law enforcement resources in Indian country; a lack of cultural competence and inattention to the needs of Native youth in state and federal systems; an over-reliance on incarceration; and a lack of support and resources for tribal justice systems. The brief includes: 1) statistics on demographics, risk factors, and juvenile delinquency for Native communities; 2) an overview of tribal, federal, and state justice systems with a brief discussion of some of the issues Native youth face in each system; 3) examples of promising solutions that address the needs of Native youth; and 4) recommendations for tribal, state, and federal policymakers and juvenile justice professionals.

One recommendation is for Congress to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been in place for 35 years. The act prohibits youth in the juvenile justice system from
being held in adult jails; however, this prohibition does not apply to youth tried as adults, who can be jailed
pretrial in adult jails and lockups in most states.

The brief is available at http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org.

For more information on the National Congress of American Indians, visit: http://www.ncai.org.

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Eric Solomon
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